On the previous post, we covered 3 of the 7 reasons why the amount of miles is meaningless. On this post we will continue with the remaining items we need to take into consideration when it comes to what we can do with miles.
4. Alliance membership & partners:
The flexibility to book on many different airlines depends on the alliance and partners your airline miles have access to. There are 3 main alliances and each of the US Big 3 belongs to one. Star Alliance (United) has 27 members, OneWorld (American) 14, and SkyTeam (Delta) 20. While you can’t transfer miles from one airline to another (there are very few exceptions like British Airways and Iberia) you can use your miles to book flights on all other alliance members. You can also fly on a member airline, but Credit those miles to another member or partner. For instance, we’ve booked trips on Star Alliance members, Avianca and Copa using United miles. We have also credited Virgin Atlantic and Alitalia Miles to Delta.
5. Quality of the product: having tons of miles and finding space are not very helpful if the actual travel experience is uncomfortable or the flights are never on time. It might be the case, that spending a few more miles or cash gives you access to a much better airline product. For instance, using United miles to fly on ANA, Turkish Airlines or Lufthansa instead of United.
6. The program elite status: There are times when the miles we have can go a lot further thanks to our elite status. We need to also consider the fact that bonus miles are not the same as elite qualifying ones. For instance, I recently got the Amex Delta Platinum card which comes with 70,000 SkyMiles which do nothing for my Delta elite status and have low value. Luckily, the card also gives me 10,000 Medallion Qualifying miles which automatically put me closer to Silver Medallion. I’m more interested in Delta status than on using or earning its SkyMiles.
7. The value of the miles: Last, but not least, there’s the issue of value. For the most part, Delta’s SkyMiles are the least valuable miles. AA and United tend to be worth about the same. However, the most important thing is what are they worth to you and your plans. The value of these currencies is extremely volatile. You can predict that the value will go down all the time, but then even Delta has a monthly flash sale that can be a good deal. I have flown business for 10,000 miles less than flying economy thanks to a United business saver award. This is how I determine the value I’m getting out of my redemption, I divide the cost of the ticket by the number of miles. The highest value will almost always be in flying far and in business/first class. Using miles for short trips can only yield value if you get the ticket very close to departure. For instance, a one-way business ticket from NYC to Toronto in 2 weeks on Air Canada can cost 15,000 miles (if there is space) or $1324. The value would be around 8 cents per mile, which is an outstanding deal. However, would you pay all that for a 90 min trip?